Plants use many different strategies to communicate with each other and with their environment. For example, certain flowers attract bees with special substances and the roots of plants can talk to the fungi about the food supply. Researchers have now discovered that plants also use small RNA to talk to each other.
RNA can even affect the genes of the recipient. In the experiment, they saw in the lab how plants growing in the same water exchange RNA molecules with each other. It came as a surprise to the researchers, because RNA is often very unstable in the outer cells and they were actually studying something completely different.
A plant has been modified in such a way that it produces extra amounts of a certain type of RNA. No other plants in the same container. But suddenly they adjusted the timing of their flowering. When they studied how this was possible, they saw that other plants also contained higher amounts of this type of RNA, without producing it themselves.
Why do plants do this? One explanation is to warn each other. Another: competition. Because how useful would it be if you could genetically modify your neighbors so that you would have all the food for yourself?
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